Cowboy Carter challenges the country music mold

‘Cowboy Carter’ challenges the country music mold

Review: Beyonce’s newest album proves to be a genre-bending blend of beauty, passion and artistry.

Beyoncé accepts the Innovator Award from Stevie Wonder onstage during the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards at Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California
Beyoncé accepts the Innovator Award from Stevie Wonder onstage during the 2024 iHeartRadio Music Awards at the Dolby Theatre.

“For things to stay the same, they have to change again,” Beyonce belts in “AMERIICAN REQUIEM,Cowboy Carter’s thesis statement. Setting the tone for the album, she blends vocals and rhythms to prime audiences for their sheer inability to put this album or her into a box.

Released on March 29 by Parkwood Entertainment and Columbia Records, the album is split into four sections. These manifest in features with Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Linda Martell, who create a virtual radio station sound — each featured inspiration appear as various personalities for Beyonce’s imaginary ‘KNTRY’ radio. 

In the first section, an emotional peak arises in “PROTECTOR,” a ballad with daughter Rumi Carter. Rumi’s laughter — as well as her request for her mom to sing — can be heard as Beyonce performs the lullaby. The song embodies motherly love, and in every repeat, sticks out as one of Beyonce’s most intimate vocal performances. 

The second section, bookended by Nelson features in “SMOKE HOUR ★ WILLIE NELSON” and “SMOKE HOUR II,” is the first mention of the ‘KNTRY’ station. Here we find Beyonce’s rendition of Parton’s classic “JOLENE” — and southern Beyonce comes out swinging, warning a would-be homewrecker, “I’m still a Creole banjee bitch from Louisiane (Don’t try me).”

Immediately following the track comes Beyonce’s “DAUGHTER” – which cuts through the ice and anger and boils Beyonce’s vocals into a beautifully haunting melody. That melody then morphs into an Italian aria, bending the very concept of genre. She sings effortlessly, switching back to the English chorus as if what she did was nothing more than a typical Monday. In “DAUGHTER,” Beyonce captures her artistic nature and showcases it again and again throughout the album. 

“SPAGHETTII” — a Martell and Shaboozey feature — follows. Martell spells out Beyonce’s concept for those who haven’t picked up on it yet: “Genres are a funny little concept, aren’t they? / In theory, they have a simple definition that’s easy to understand / But in practice, well, some may feel confined.”

Beyonce and Shaboozey then perform the very act of genre-bending, moving from a fast-paced rap to a muted harmony. 

As the next section begins, Nelson’s voice leaves all the Beyonce haters gasping for air: “Sometimes you don’t know what you like until someone you trust turns you on to some real good shit / And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I’m here.” 

This section calls back to the emotive edge seen in the earlier “16 CARRIAGES,” “PROTECTOR” and “BLACKBIIRD.” These songs employ classic country chords and slow melodies accompanied by powerful vocals.

A feature with Miley Cyrus, “II MOST WANTED,” pulls the chords of nostalgia and love. The pairs’ voices weave together to create a stunning tapestry of sound that cannot be captured without the language of music.  

“FLAMENCO” establishes the weight of sadness that is critical to this portion of the album — Beyonce quite literally guides us through a prayer and masterfully imbues a sense of melancholy into the rhythm. Many skim past the song as just another of the 27-track-album, but upon another listen, and another listen, this song proves to be an emotional core to Cowboy Carter. 

“YA YA,” a quintessential Tina Turner tribute, begins the final section of the album, calling back to Martell’s earlier feature and further tying together Beyonce’s influences. Even on the initial listen, I could see the dancing that Beyonce would bring to the performance (I’m begging for the visuals here). 

A few songs later, we’re in the thick of “RIIVERDANCE” — undoubtedly one of my favorites from the entire project. Beyonce captures a sense of joy that begs you to move.

How she does this is the cornerstone of the whole album — juxtaposing a traditional country guitar with a singular house beat, she creates a cacophony of wonderment. Listening to “RIIVERDANCE” for the first time was reminiscent of “BREAK MY SOUL” — the hit single from her previous project — in the sense that once the chorus hits, the beat infects you, taking control of every muscle and every motion. You quite literally can’t listen to “RIIVERDANCE” and be unmoved. 

Genre-bending is a staple of Cowboy Carter, and while in many tracks we see this, in “SWEET ★ HONEY ★ BUCKIIN’,” the testimony rings loud and true. Moving from Beyonce’s ballad intro to Shaboozey’s rap, to Beyonce’s singing-infused rap to the beat — the first part of the track, SWEET, begins us on a journey.

HONEY follows, and a sultry sound escapes Beyoncé’s lips, a note that would leave anyone in awe. Before you realize what’s happening, Beyonce is rapping again in the final portion of the song, BUCKIIN’. All the while, the syncopated rhythms, sampled sounds and features on the track juxtapose sound and noise to create musical art. 

Finally, we reach the last song, “AMEN.” Interpolating portions of “AMERIICAN REQUIEM,” this track leaves audiences in a prayer-like state. Small futuristic sounds guide us to the album’s conclusion, hinting at the next act to follow.

Leaving us in meditative prayer, Cowboy Carter bends genre like a language, each choice and juxtaposition a sign to be received by fans. Beyonce is like King Midas, and every song she touches turns to gold. Nothing short of masterful, Cowboy Carter is one of those albums you remember where you were when you first listened to it.

It’s a culture-defining force that will guide future artists into a world where no one is imprisoned by the concept of genre — where artists can create without boundaries. Beyond bold and beyond revolutionary, the album is simply beautiful.